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Friday, September 2, 2011
A State of Palestine Would Backfire On Its Own People
Mehdi Hasan agrees with Netanyahu. There's nothing to be gained
from the United Nations recognising this segmented fantasy state
By Mehdi Hasan
Palestinians carry a wounded protester after Israeli troops opened fire during a march in the Gaza Strip in May this year. Photograph: Mahmud Hams/Getty Images
On 20 September, the United Nations will welcome a new member: the "State
of Palestine". Senior Palestinian Authority (PA) officials believe they
have secured the support of enough countries to pass a resolution in the UN
general assembly recognising a Palestinian state. There is, however, little to
celebrate. For the first time in my life, I find myself in agreement with
Binyamin Netanyahu. The loathsome Israeli prime minister is opposed to the
Palestinian bid for statehood – and so, reluctantly, am I. But for very
different reasons to "Bibi".
Palestinians are walking into a trap of their own making. With the so-called
"peace process" going nowhere, and with the number of Israeli
settlements on the rise, the UN vote is an act of desperation, not strength, on
the part of the Palestinian leadership. The risks are high; the benefits few
and far between.
of statehood hide behind a series of spurious arguments. Some argue that
statehood will give Palestinians a greater voice. Mahmoud Abbas, the PA
president whose electoral mandate expired more than two years ago, has said
that "when the recognition of our state on the 1967 borders happens, we
will become a state under occupation, and then we would be able to go to the UN
Abbas also happens to be chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. The
PLO, in its capacity as "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian
people", has had observer status at the UN since 1974 and been allowed to
participate in security council debates since 1976. So Abbas can already raise
whatever issue he likes at the UN. Why has he not, for instance, gone back to
the international court of justice, which has previously declared Israeli
settlements to be "illegal and an obstacle to peace", for further
rulings? Why has he not pushed for a security council debate on the Goldstone
report, which accused the Israelis of committing war crimes in Gaza?
initiatives would do more to advance the decades-long Palestinian struggle for
freedom than a change in nameplates at the UN building in New York. That Abbas
has failed to use the powers he possesses speaks volumes about his own
weakness; it does not strengthen the case for a make-believe Palestinian state.
there are those who believe statehood would offer the Palestinians a legal
shield against Israeli aggression. PA official Nabil Shaath has said that if a
Palestinian state were to gain UN recognition, the Israelis would then "be
in daily violation of the rights of a fellow member state and diplomatic and
legal consequences could follow, all of which would be painful for
Israel". Who is he kidding? Consider the experiences of Lebanon and Syria.
The former had its southern strip occupied by Israel for 22 years, from 1978 to
2000; the latter lost the Golan Heights to the Jewish state in 1967. Did
"statehood" protect Lebanon from Israeli assault? Has membership of
the UN general assembly helped Syria regain the Golan Heights?
is also a lazy assumption that if the Israelis are opposed to Palestinian
statehood, then it must be the correct course of action. However, some of the
shrewdest members of Israel's foreign policy elite take a different line to
Netanyahu. Gidi Grinstein, a member of Ehud Barak's negotiating team at Camp
David in 2000, has bluntly spelled out the strategic benefits of Palestinian
statehood… for the Jewish state. "A declaration of a Palestinian state in
September includes the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough as well as
significant advantages for Israel," he wrote in Haaretz in May. "The
establishment of such a state will help anchor the principle of two states for
two peoples, shape the permanent situation with Israel controlling the security
assets and the new state's surroundings, and diminish the refugee problem by
marginalising UNRWA [the United Nations relief and works agency] and limiting
issue of refugees is crucial. In recent years, much ink has been spilled on the
divide between Palestinians in the Fatah-led West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza.
But the real divide is between Palestinians living in the occupied territories
and Palestinian refugees living abroad. The majority of the world's nine
million or so Palestinians live outside the West Bank and Gaza, with three out
of four members on the Palestinian National Council, the PLO's legislative
body, representing the diaspora.
a hard-hitting, seven-page legal opinion on the consequences of Palestinian
statehood, published recently by Guy Goodwin-Gill, a professor of international
law at Oxford University, concluded that "the interests of the Palestinian
people are at risk of prejudice and fragmentation" and the refugees in the
diaspora risk losing "their entitlement to equal representation" and
"their ability to vocalise their views, to participate in matters of
national governance, including the formation and political identity of the
state, and to exercise the right of return".
According to Goodwin-Gill, the PLO's UN status would be transferred to the new
state of Palestine after the vote on 20 September: a state confined to mere
segments of the West Bank and perhaps Gaza; a state which most Palestinian
refugees would have little or no connection to; a state which, lest we forget,
does not actually exist. To have a PA-led fantasy state representing only West
Bank and Gaza residents replace the PLO – representing all Palestinians – as
Israel's chief interlocutor would be a disaster.
Palestinian representatives and civil-society groups have expressed their
concerns. Karma Nabulsi, the Oxford academic and former PLO official, says that
by "losing the PLO as the sole legitimate representative at the UN, our
people immediately lose our claim as refugees to be part of our official
representation". The Palestinian American journalist and blogger Ali
Abunimah has dismissed the UN bid as a "charade".
is difficult to disagree with him. Will "statehood", after all, stop
the relentless colonisation of Palestinian land by Israeli settlers? Will
membership of the UN general assembly stop the targeted assassinations of Palestinians?
Will it result in the closure of a single checkpoint or the release of a single
truth is that, whether or not Abbas succeeds in his bid for statehood, the life
of the ordinary Palestinian on the ground in Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem or,
indeed, Gaza City, will change not a jot. The residents of the occupied
territories will continue to be killed and maimed. The members of the
Palestinian diaspora, meanwhile, could find themselves voiceless; a people
disenfranchised and delegitimised.
-This commentary was published in The Guardian on 01/09/2011 -Mehdi Hasan is senior editor (politics) at the New Stateman and former news and current affairs editor at British Channel 4